Polling All Students: Our Missed Opportunities in Education in an Election Season

By N N S Chandra

Every year, McMaster University organizes a ceremonial Gandhi walk, held on the weekend closest to his day of birth (October 2nd). And, like almost every year, I was one of the many who walked through the streets of downtown Hamilton, celebrating the life and principles of one of the greatest men to have ever lived. However, I was a bad attendee this year; I was not thinking about Gandhi as I walked or even peace at all! Instead, all along, I was getting increasingly worried and agitated on the lack of discussion on education I had seen in this latest round of Canadian elections. As an educator, I suppose I am inclined to think this way.

I have closely and intensely listened to the discourse throughout this campaign, and I try to read and dissect the various parties, looking for information on their positions, values and commitments. To a certain extent, I can agree that there have indeed been references; there are plans in each of the main party’s platforms on important issues in education, how to tackle the burgeoning student loan crisis for example.

 But I’m surprised to see that Canada, in terms of our leadership and our society as a whole, does not seem to see the investment opportunity that lies in the education sector; an investment that can innovate our way of life, create wealth, and bring in new ideas for long-term positive change. I am concerned about our lack of commitment to our education institutions and making them attractive to the academically driven, talented and resource-rich pool of prospective undergraduate and graduate students.  Comparing our efforts with those from the south of the border, we are coming up short, and the gap is only increasing. For illustration, I am directly associated with the efforts of Study Iowa (a consortium of universities and colleges in Iowa) to promote their campuses to international students. Through my position in that initiative, I have the freedom to observe, understand and learn from the efforts of large university systems in the USA, and the resource pooling required by smaller liberal arts colleges in positioning to attract international students.

As Canadians around the country queue up to vote, I will be travelling to India and East Asia. I will be talking to 100s of students in Mumbai, Dubai, Hyderabad, Delhi, and even remote towns like Varanasi, interacting with students who are dying for an opportunity to come study in the top schools of North America. To them, this usually only means American schools. Whenever I get a chance, I try to converse with them about Canada and the unique opportunities they might receive here. I tell IB students in Mumbai about the 8%+ of international students in our campuses, about Canadian businesses that are more open to providing jobs for international students than their European and American counterparts. I tell students in Hyderabad about how we can provide them with more jobs and long-term careers at almost double the rate that America can. I talk to them about some of my personal students who are already quite successful in UBC and UOIT, the scholarships they’ve received, and their flourishing in Canadian campuses; meanwhile, the statistics showing that only 59% of International students in America even graduate! Yet unfortunately, the statistics also show that most of the campuses in the United States have a significantly higher International population than most of our global campuses (such as McMaster, Calgary and Waterloo).

Most of the students I converse with at schools around the world, be it in India or China, consider Canadian universities with less interest. Are we doing a lousy job at marketing our schools? Are we not bringing in the appropriate tone and focus to our campuses to attract global citizens? Beyond verbal hype and high profile visits by our ministers, are we doing enough to reach out to these prospective students? Do we have a strategy in place to seize this immense opportunity of capitalizing on the rapid growth in the middle class of developing countries and the subsequent explosion of young talent who crave and can now afford a global education?

Student migration is going to be a significant factor in any economy moving forward, and it would be in our best interest to make the best use of it by investing in it, channelling growth and youthful energy, and building a system that incentivizes the next generation of leaders and thinkers to make a positive contribution to the world. It is significant to note that even among the current prospective international students, more than two-third intent to live and work here, given an opportunity. The battle has not been lost, but it must be fought to stand a chance!

I like to think that, in retrospect, Gandhi would not have minded me not thinking too much about him while I walked in his honour. For a man as forward thinking as he was would have recognized the issues we face today, and the fact that discussing solutions for the future instead of focusing on the problems of the past are the only way we can move forward. So I will be watching the results from our election flowing in from the beaches of Goa, and hoping that we, as a community, will just for a moment set aside our debates on niqabs and turbans, the taxes we pay and our paycheques, and start a conversation on our future as a society and the role the globalized, connected, and opinionated young men and women from around the world can play in it.

About the Author

image01N N S Chandra

N N S Chandra is the lead editor of the research journal Transitions in Global Education and senior partner with the education consulting firm Trans Web Global, practicing from Boston, Mumbai and Iowa. He is a teacher, an accomplished counsellor and College Admission Specialist, a published author, speaker, and researcher. He also conducts a series of popular shows on radio and live online chat, including his weekly Live Chat show on Rediff. Chandra has been leading organizations that work with hundreds of students, guiding them, counselling and consulting on several areas including university admissions in North America. Chandra is active with and carrying the accreditation of several professional organizations like NACAC, OACAC, ASCA, ACA, and Study Iowa. He teaches and consults in North America, speaks in international conferences, presents and gives lectures around schools, colleges and other educational institutions around the world. He is also a writer with published works (fiction and nonfiction), and currently finalizing his first full collection of short stories.